September 19, 2013
by Ariel Adams
Chinese watchmaking is nothing new, nor is it unsophisticated. All of this is evidenced by the 2013 Wu Ji watch by the Beijing Watch Factory. “Wu Ji” apparently translates from Mandarin to “Infinite Universe” in English, a lofty title typical of Chinese naming practices. That said, the Beijing Watch Factory should be proud. Once again they’ve broken ground for their country by producing what they claim is the most complicated watch produced on mainland China. What impresses me more is the brand itself, and their rather atypically refined sense of composure.
China isn’t known for creative watch design. China is known for production, copying, and diligence – which applies to their own watch industry as well. From a production and consumption standpoint, China is the most important place in the world for watches. All but the most exclusive of Swiss watch brands rely heavily on China for the production of watch parts – such as cases and straps – even when they contain “Swiss Made” movements. Native Chinese brands are nevertheless marred by national qualities which oppose many of the qualities that allow for beautiful watchmaking. Ask the Swiss how they make watches and they use the term “slow” and “careful” a lot. China’s industrial power comes from the fact that they aren’t slow and often not careful. So why do we expect them to make good watches the Swiss way? The simple answer is that they don’t.
Although, these generalities aren’t rules. Not all Chinese watches exhibit confusing and awkward designs that that woefully seek to emulate European aesthetics. There are, however, excellent examples of Chinese watchmakers who emulate the Swiss rather well. This is both the strength and weakness of the Chinese watch industry. To be considered “good” by traditional standards, they need to still copy the West. To be bad, they need only to copy poorly. No matter what China is still copying, my hope at least – and there are positive signs of this – is that with China’s serious and sincere love of watches we will eventually see unique design in both the outside and inside of their domestically made watches.
While there are many elements of Swiss watch design seen in the Wu Ji, it is a pleasantly original and interesting timepiece. While elements such as overall aesthetic in many of Beijing Watch Factory’s designs are inherently European, they do however take many artistic liberties in producing unique products. The Wu Ji is a glowing and ambitious example of what they can produce. Even though Chinese watch manufacturing is huge, those that can produce credible mechanical watches are still limited and few watch lovers would claim that Chinese-made mechanical movements are excellent. I am not an expert on all Chinese movements, but I do know that most of them are copies of Swiss movements. The mechanism in the Infinite Universe clearly isn’t. While an inspection of the movement makes it clear that this is a Chinese creation, I found many of the unique elements quite interesting. What I love about this watch is how the complications are much more than skin deep. What you see is only half of what you get. First and foremost, I’ll explain how you even tell the time.